Likes: greenness, pubs, real ale, historic buildings, most people.
Dislikes: bad weather, thoughtless development, bad beer, some people.
Living away for significant periods certainly stimulates awareness of your homeland. Last week we did a little historic tour of the south west, or at least a small part of it. As usual we travelled and lived in our motor caravan, mostly sleeping in car parks. Maybe there is a book there: England's Car Parks at Night. Not really; nothing much happens.
First, we went to Woodchester Mansion, a gothic revival project near the town of Stroud - itself located in the delightful golden valley. The mansion is Victorian, and one of its main features is the fact that is incomplete which allows visitors to view its internals in a way that verges on voyeurism.
Things that stick in the mind are: the fireplaces suspended high up in the floorless walls, the one room completed for the visit of some dignitary, the horseshoe bats who are the only occupants, the large ladder still standing against a wall and partly rungless, the crumbling chapel, the use of brick infill in a limestone clad edifice, the unfilled holes where the putlogs of timber scaffolding once rested.
We travelled on to Wells, the smallest city in England. Its cathedral and bishop's palace punch well above Well's weight in the population stakes. The west end of the cathedral gave me one of those moments: a surge of emotion that happens rarely and brings unexpected and inexplicable tears to the eyes. It is wonderful. The two towers look chunky from afar, but close to are intricately carved and light in texture. The long internal arching is brilliant and the eye-like crossing formed by its inverse gothic arch is quite entrancing. I could go on and on - enough. We had a brilliant guide, an ex-architect with a depth of understanding of church structure that impressed the hell out of me - if you can say that of such holy surroundings.
But my favourite stop was Sherborne: a small Somerset town with something for all - and a quiet car park to sleep in. There is a group of delightful buildings around the strange conduit building in the centre and nearby a very large abbey church with a well-preserved Norman entry tower (we did not go in - you can become a bit over-churched). And the pub! They still exist you know: traditional pubs with no music or TV and a sign indicating a fine of 50p for anyone daring to use a mobile, real ale at £2.40 a pint, lots of alcoves...the Sherborne Tap is a jewel. We left reluctantly to purchase fish and chips from a Glaswegian fryer who set me to rights on Scottish independence and many other topical points while cooking the cod. Then jazz in another pub! I don't even like jazz, but I liked it there - and enjoyed the people that we met.
Next day I jogged around the Sherborne Castle Estate, then we visited the two castles - old and new. The latter was originally the house of Sir Walter Raleigh, an Oxford graduate who brought potatoes and tobacco to us from America. He was executed before lung cancer and blocked arteries could bring him down and his house was bought by the Digby family who expanded it into the castle that we saw. It has nice stone framing, but the inset panels are rendered (the receptionist told me that it was the first rendered house in England). Concrete does not age well so, at close quarters, the place looks somewhat unattractive. But inside it is wonderfully furnished and decorated. The unusual shape provided by four wings built out from the original house ensures an extremely light interior and delightful views of the grounds from almost every room. It is a treasure, as is the ruined old castle and the extensive lake.
We spent our last night in Bradford-on-Avon's station car park after enjoying the delights of an open-mike night in the Swan. It is a lovely town with many attractive stone buildings clinging to the hillside and a simple, but endearing, Saxon church.
And so back to Stow, where I dug in the lettuce plants bought in Wells and admired Margaret's colourful flower garden. An English country garden.